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When Tyler Butterfield got off the bike in fourth position during the 2013 Ironman World Championship, practically everyone who knew him was thrilled for the gregarious Bermudian. Very few people expected him to be so close to the front of Ironman Hawaii. Three hours later he crossed the line in seventh. Butterfield has dedicated his entire 2014 season to improving his result on the Big Island. Here’s seven reasons he may do it (and one reason he may not).
He didn’t time trial a marathon three weeks before the race.
Three weeks before the 2013 Ironman World Championship, Butterfield undertook a test workout that may have sapped some of his strength on race day. He time-trialed the full marathon course, running 2:40 by himself. “Everyone said I was silly,” said Butterfield. “So this year I just did 20 a little faster rather than the 26,” completing the 20 miles in just under two hours. Saving himself from the physical beating of a full marathon just weeks before Ironman Hawaii may leave more energy for the miles that really count.
Lots of people may blow on the bike.
More people will be tempted to go hard on the bike, Butterfield thinks. “There’s a lot of good guys that will be in the back pack and a lot of good guys in the front,” says Butterfield.
With Jan Frodeno and Andrew Starykowicz up front out of the swim and Sebastian Kienle and Victor Del Corral coming from behind, the rest of the athletes may feel pressured to ride beyond their capabilities. And over-ambitious racing often ends the same way in Hawaii. Butterfield believes he has the patience and experience to avoid that trap.
He conducted two of his own wind tunnel tests since last year.
The majority of wind tunnel testing conducted on pro triathletes is paid for by a sponsor. While athletes can get significant improvements from these tests, they are often not completely free to try any product. Financing a test can get a company status as a “favored nation.” Twice this year, Butterfield ponied up his money to travel to the San Diego Low Speed Wind Tunnel and test his equipment and position. The results were dramatic. “In the wind tunnel, theoretically I’m supposed to be 15 minutes quicker,” he said. “Of course that number isn’t exactly real. I was hoping the get four minutes out of that.”
Paraffin wax is slippery.
Jason Smith of Friction Facts, who happens to be the father of a child who goes to school with Butterfield’s daughter, discovered that a particular paraffin wax chain treatment has a dramatic effect on the resistance created by the chain’s links turning and twisting past each other—upwards of a few watts. Smith now sells treated chains, call the UltraFast Chain and Butterfield will be racing with a fresh one on his bike.
His cycling time trial ability has improved.
Like he did for the run, Butterfield used a cycling time trial to gauge his fitness before the race in 2013. He replicated that effort this year, riding 171K (skipping the first miles looping through town) in 4:20, significantly faster than he was able to ride a year earlier. Wind conditions were in his favor, with just a gentle headwind on the way out of town and a robust tailwind driving him back home. Without a power meter on his bike, Butterfield was left with self perception to gauge these rides.
“My shortest intervals, last year and this year, have been 20 minutes. To get away you have to have the top end, which I just don’t have. The main thing is [the race] is 180K.”
Last year’s race taught him about patience.
Ambition is important in a championship race, but so is temperance. “It was interesting to see [Frederik Van Lierde] stop and un-clip when he was 20 meters behind Keinle and McKenzie,” said Butterfield, who witnessed the eventual champion’s patience first hand. “He definitely had a plan. After he caught up to our group he was clearly the strongest…he held up before he decided to push.” So many athletes, experienced and novice, destroy their chances at a top finish by getting overeager early in the race, and watching Van Lierde take the long approach and win the race clearly affected Butterfield.
Bringing a special needs bag can help.
When his competitors were grabbing their favorite late-race nutrition, Butterfield was left with nothing. He confused the pro bottle drop with the special needs bag and “totally forgot,” he said, to bring fuel for himself. “Race morning I was putting my bags together and everyone had [a special needs bag],” recalled Butterfield. This year, he’s bringing one too.
And the reason he may not: His swim is a little worse this year.
As more time passes after the 2012 Olympics, Butterfield’s swim erodes evermore slightly. He isn’t a super swimmer to begin with and just barely made the lead group out of T1 in 2013. With another year focused on long course racing (with a couple Olympic distance races sprinkled in), he may be forced to start the ride without the all-important benefit of pacing off other athletes. Missing the pack can have a huge impact on his entire day. In addition to the ability to pace, there are draft implications even at this non-drafting race. We measured a 12-watt savings from riding at a legal distance at the pace of the lead men’s group.